A guide to resourceful Eco shopping

Essential steps to making sustainable decisions when purchasing larger household items and gadgets


Ethical eco shopping is not widely encouraged by large companies and advertising agencies. They persuade potential customers into buying, replacing and upgrading large items on a regular basis –  from cars, furniture, home appliances, to home computer and gaming hardware, and of course cell phones. They tell us that us that if we buy the latest, newest, shiniest things, we will be more attractive, successful, popular, and so much happier!  There are no sad looks on the faces of the proud new owners of anything the commercials are trying to sell us.  In fact we can be left wondering how on earth we are even managing to live without these things, let alone be happy!  We need these items, or think we do, but at what cost to the environment? The resources used in the manufacturing process and the cost of transporting these goods needs to be considered whilst reducing the number of goods ending up in landfill. The following suggested steps, and avoiding impulse buys and can help us to make eco decisions when purchasing.


Step One

There are many variations to the sentence beginning with, “I need a new…..“ The first step before any purchase is to stop and think.  Do we actually need it?  Is it a want?  We can practice the wear it out, use it up, ‘make do and mend’, and hand me down principles which were the way of life for previous generations.   Whilst discussing eco-friendly home appliances I was reminded that the most eco-friendly one available is probably the one you already own.  Can it be repaired, serviced or even modified  to be more environmentally friendly.  If we take good care of things, they will last longer!

Step Two

Could we buy or trade a pre-owned version? The consumers who are buying the latest “must haves” are sometimes keen to make way for their new gadgets and will trade them in, sell, or give away their older versions. Some people are upgrading based on colour schemes, or fashion, others may be downsizing, and require less.  Where there is the most pressure for upgrading there will be lots of availability of second hand items.   Many of these have been really well taken care of.  I may scratch or slightly damage a new item, and it will eventually age, so I am happy to buy something a little further on its life!  I worry less about the normal family use of items that came to us already  a bit worn in and used!  Freecycle, local small ads and auction sites are full of these items.  Look for those which are located closest to home, or workplace.  Sometimes collection of these items can be combined with other necessary trips if further away.

Some older items are made with less complicated components meaning they can be fixed and potentially last longer than brand-new. This is particularly true of cars and furniture.  Older manufacturing techniques and materials could mean that whist they might seem less efficient in the short term, in the long term they will last and last, reducing the over-all carbon footprint. It is important to make sure that these are safety checked prior to use. There are some circumstances where new items are safer than older models, so buying second hand might not apply, such as second hand childrens car seats.

Step Three

Research.  If we decide the best option is to buy new, does the item have good ratings/ fuel consumption?  Does it use less energy to run? Most appliances are rated for energy consumption.   Do they use components which can be recycled when the product has come to the end of its useful life?  This is good way to save the planet.

Consumer purchasing power can influence the way company’s trade.  By boycotting less green companies and choosing to buy from the better ones we can put pressure on businesses to improve. Researching the reliability of the product could help to reduce the need for repairs, and avoid earlier replacement. It is often a false economy to buy cheaper goods, so buy the best quality, best eco rated item you can afford.

Some these items can be purchased “as new” as store returns – people who have paid the full price for new goods will not accept items with scratches or in need of simple repairs.  This way you can purchase the latest items, with the latest eco features,   at a fraction of the cost!

Step Four

Where possible support local companies following good ethical and eco credentials.    Calgary.isGreen sponsors are already working to supply goods and services in this way.  They are experts on their green products and can also advise you.  Look for others too. Support companies with a good reputation for social responsibility, paying their employees a fair, living wage. Weigh up transport and delivery costs vs other green criteria.

Larger national or global companies can also be used if the goods are not available locally.  Is the company known for using environmentally friendly  energy for manufacturing and fuel for transportation?  Do they plan their deliveries efficiently so that they are delivering within similar areas at the same time? These are all questions you have to ask before making a selection.

Step Five

In addition to the above steps ,consider these questions.   Will your purchased item help you live a more environmentally friendly life style?  Will it reduce the amount of other resources you will use?  Is it completely fit for purpose?  Will it actually cut down on energy and resources?  If it doesn’t do the job you require, you will probably be replacing it sooner rather than later, and it might end up tossed in the trash and on the way to landfill in the frustration of it not actually working efficiently!

Recently my smart phone/life line broke beyond repair.   I followed the above steps, researching larger handset manufacturers and network providers for their company ethos, green information, recycling programs, and use of renewable energy,  as well as considering eco/fair trade phones on the market.   Buying the wrong item, would mean I would end up replacing it sooner rather than later. My phone is now my main source of communication, including social media,  my calendar and planner, my camera, the place where I jot down my notes and reminders,  and where I read online newspapers, books,  watch TV and movies.  It has actually eliminated the need for buying other items.  I use it to plan and implement my eco strategies!

Whilst we try to take care of and repair our larger items, sooner or later we will need to replace them. If we stop and really consider our options, in relation to their impact on the environment, including questioning if we really actually need them,  we can shop more responsibly and purchase the most suitable items for us. Avoid impulse buys.  Slow down.  Research.  We can choose what we buy and where we buy it, which in turn can influence the policies of manufacturers and retailers.

A word of warning….remember that eco and green are popular phrases.  Companies recognize that eco consumers have purchasing power, and that we want to protect the environment.  Be aware that not everything you buy is as eco as you may be led to believe, or it may be for sale at inflated prices just because of the “eco label”, but that is a wholly different article in itself…

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